A common question from many parents is ‘when do we talk to our kids about sex?’, as if it’s still a ‘one off’ awkward conversation about the birds and the bees. However our hypersexualised culture forces us to change our thinking. We can either be one step ahead, or let culture frame the way our kids think about sex. Perhaps a better question to ask is ‘what sexualised messages do I need to counteract so that my child will have a positive attitude towards their body, sense of self and relationships?‘
There’s a barrage of sexual content facing our kids on a day to day basis. Whether we are comfortable with it or not, children either inadvertently or out of curiosity, learn about sex on almost a daily basis. Advertising, music, clothing, TV, movies and the Internet all offer a version of sex education that most of us would prefer wasn’t the mode of learning. Much of this version of sex is objectifying (portraying people as nothing more than a sex object). Caring parents and educators are beautifully positioned to offer children positive alternative messages that instil in them a value for themselves and respect for others.
Over the past few years in particular, there has been a strong focus to increase protective behaviours in children, and rightly so. Education in this space needs a much stronger priority within homes and schools as a first defence measure against child sexual abuse.
When we look more broadly, International standards related to sexuality education incorporates protective behaviours and outlines that between the ages of 4-9, important foundational learning related to wellness, safety and autonomy includes:
- Gaining an understanding of private body parts and public / private behaviour
- Awareness of good and bad experiences (listening to their body as a way to stay safe)
- Knowing that some people are not good and may do unkind or violent things to others
- Knowledge of what to do, who to speak with and where to go in order to feel safe
- Awareness of healthy boundaries
- Expressing relationships in a positive way
- Exercising responsibility for self
- and showing respect towards others.
There’s nothing scary about this kind of learning – it’s the provision of practical information that lays a grounded foundation for life and relationships. There are very few primary schools in Australia who actively implement this kind of robust education in the early years, and many parents are seeking support to know how to approach these areas. As you stay connected with us through our newsletters, I’ll be announcing online webinars to support parents to gain confidence in these areas.
And now, as much as it can be confronting to acknowledge, education needs to extend beyond face-to-face protective behaviours given that some children will inadvertently access explicit online material at a very young age. The Cyber Violence Against Women and Girls Report released in 2015 states:
“The growing ubiquity of mobile devices means those targeted or indirectly implicated are getting younger and younger — with children as young as 5 or 6 years of age now exposed to cyber bullying and online pornography — sometimes of the most extreme kind. In some contexts online culture represents the worst form of gang violence.”
Such exposure can have a range of troubling impacts. Navigating the task of keeping children safe and letting them know where to go if they are troubled – either by inappropriate touch or inappropriate online content – has become an essential component of life with the Internet.
Unfortunately Internet pornography has become the dominant sexuality educator of our time. I speak with parents on a consistent basis who believe they have adequately protected their children by diligently installing home filters and doing their best to keep up with the apps and never ending stream of technological influences. BUT many parents still haven’t had a conversation because they’re not sure how to approach it. As diligent as carers can be, the sheer volume of explicit content available means it’s not a case of if their kids will see porn, it’s a matter of when.
Sadly, we also need to have an acute awareness of the growing number of children who have not had an ideal home or social environment for healthy development, have seen pornography, and then act out those inappropriate behaviours on other children. There has been a four-fold increase of children presenting to clinics with problem sexualised behaviours and sexually abusive behaviours over the past few years, with almost all cases attributed to Internet pornography. This provides an even greater need for all children to have comprehensive protective behaviours education that includes online safety.
Whatever children are exposed to, they have to find a way to manage. They absorb, transform, reject and imagine on the basis of experience or fragments of experience.
Exploiting childhood : how fast food, material obsession and porn culture are creating new forms of child abuse. Edited by Jim Wild. p110
Kids who see porn need to find a way to manage what they encounter. If they have a gentle and safe conversation BEFORE they see explicit content, they have a grounded framework in which to process that information. The lens that they see porn through is different. They are prepared. They are given context. They have the tools to know what to do – and most importantly, they know that when they approach a safe adult and talk, they won’t be in trouble.
The alternative – not talking to children about porn – leaves kids unprepared. A child can very quickly let feelings overwhelm them. Responses can range from curiosity, disgust, confusion, guilt and arousal. “I hated this but I liked it”. “I don’t want to look at more but I really want to look at more”. “I get a sense that it’s bad for me but I don’t really know why”. Internal conflict without the knowledge of why porn is not healthy for them, can quickly lead to shame, a life of secrecy and an unhealthy foundation for future relationships.
Porn is no longer like the images in the magazine I saw at the age of 6. Images are often violent and extreme.
One study found that physical aggression in pornography such as gagging (54% of porn scenes); choking (27% of scenes) and slapping (75% of scenes) is overwhelmingly (94%) directed at women.
Study of 50 best-selling pornographic videos, Ana Bridges et al, 2010
There’s a massive amount of concern in community and amongst professionals around this material being accessed by minors. The Pornography and Harms to Children and Young People Symposium held on February 9 2016 engaged lead speakers from around the nation to share their research and professional knowledge. With well over 200 in attendance, this symposium highlighted seven key points.
1. Exposure of children and young people to pornography in Australia has reached critical levels.*
2. This is having widespread and measurable negative consequences on the physical, mental, and emotional well-being of children and young people.*
3. This constitutes a public health crisis, and as such is a concern for the community as a whole.
4. This crisis has not received adequate public attention, and needs to be publicised as widely as possible as a matter of urgency.
5. More extensive research should be conducted in Australia to fully explore and document the extent of this crisis.
6. All avenues must be pursued to explore possible solutions to this crisis, including education, voluntary efforts by relevant industries, and regulation (“Mass media… should not promote material that could harm children”, UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, Article 17).
7. As part of its duty of care to children, the federal government must take the lead in addressing this crisis comprehensively (“Governments should protect [children] from violence, abuse and neglect”, UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, Article 19).
If you are concerned too, I encourage you to take action.
- Add your name to the movement and share the campaign. Your voice speaking up for our children absolutely matters!
- And most importantly, read Not for Kids! to your children. Utilise the Discussion Questions and open up an empowering conversation.
A wise mentor once said to me: “Liz, what parents need to understand is that someone is always talking to their kids about sex. If it’s not them, it’s the world.” This comment is equally as relevant for the topic of porn. Hard-core porn is readily available to children and young people at the click of a button. I for one, am not happy about that reality. But for now, the only defence is to SPEAK UP – with our children, in our communities and to our government.
If you would like help with that conversation in your circle of influence, contact me for support. Or if you would like to enable me to continue in advocacy work, please consider supporting my Voice for Change crowdfunding campaign. Together we create more than a ripple effect – we create a tsunami of positive change for our children and their future!!
There’s only one thing worse than children being exposed to graphic explicit imagery, and that is a child who feels isolated and alone, unprepared for seeing such things and not knowing where to turn. Not for Kids! is an exceptional children’s book that offers gentle and insightful guidance. It’s a ‘must have’ resource for parents and professionals to prepare kids under the age of 10 for the inevitable.
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